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Military Sexual Assaults Rise, But Solutions Still Elusive

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INTRO: White House representatives and U.S. lawmakers met last night in Washington to discuss the rise in sexual assault in the U.S. Military. Earlier this week, the Pentagon released a report estimating that 26,000 military personnel have been sexually assaulted. Dr. Mic Hunter is the author of “Honor Betrayed: Sexual Abuse in America’s Military.” He says it’ll take a lot more than just legislation to stop this problem.

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Queers, Against Gay Marriage?

Queers, Against Gay Marriage?

John and Glenn

John Hoge and Glenn Santiago have lived together for 27 years. They got married in 2012 a year after gay marriage became legal in New York. This is their home in the East Village. (Camilo Vargas/Uptown Radio).

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INTRO: Support for gay marriage keeps growing in the United States. But some members of the gay community, who call themselves Queers, oppose gay marriage. The issue has revealed a split in the gay community. And it goes back to the radical spirit of gay liberation from decades ago. Camilo Vargas reports from Christopher Street, where it all began.

When you walk into the Stonewall bar on Christopher Street, you’re greeted by a long line of pop hits.

Fade up music at  ‘pop hits’

Near the entrance, a frame has a newspaper from June 1969. The headline: Homo Nest: Queen Bees are Stinging Mad.

Fade down pop music and fade up street ambi.

I walk out with Steve, one of the sixty-year olds at the bar. He was 22 at the time, and he explains the headline.


The Stonewall bar was the original bar that was raided by the police where people resisted the raid and the denigration that used to go on. This kicked off the gay liberation movement. 0.12

The rioters were drag queens, runaway youth and gay and lesbian patrons of the bar. Society called them queers. They were the weirdos, the marginals, the deviants. And they inspired activist the groups that sprung up all around the country. They claimed the word Queer as a synonym of sexual liberation, of freedom, of gay power. “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,” was their motto.  Fade out street ambi

Queer activist Yasmin Nair fears that gay marriage betrays the spirit of the Stonewall riots.


We felt that there was a real need for queers to understand that there’s actually always been a radical history of being against gay marriage and having a left radical politics. 0.10

Queers today continue fighting against what they saw as the establishment.


The queers have always made a connection between those oppressive institutions and institutions like marriage, the prison industrial complex, the military… 0.08

During the seventies and eighties, the gay movement fought for sexual liberation, for social and economic rights. And for their own survival survival.


We had the AIDS movement in the 80s and that depleted our efforts, not only because we lost so many but because it consumed so much energy.  0.10

Then the face of the gay movement changed in the 90s. Celebrities and rich personalities came out. Organizations like the Human Rights Campaign began lobbying for full legal equality. The new motto was not to fight the establishment, but to be part of it.  The movement began to attract mass support. Gender studies professor Bonnie Morris remembers the third great march for gay rights in Washington.


Now by the time we get to the Millenium March in 2000 there was a definite trend towards Faith, Marriage, it sounded very mainstream. 0.08

Hundreds of thousands attended the march. But Queer activists all over shunned the event. The demands had gotten too conservative. Corporations began funding gay initiatives. And many Gays began focusing on  the legal benefits of marriage.


A lot of the shift towards focusing on marriage, had to do with protecting assets if you had some.  0.08

Queer activist Yasmin has a somewhat darker interpretation of the shift. She believes that gay couples must now tie the knot, literally, if they want health care, immigration rights or tax breaks.


Marriage is now being coerced upon too many people, so it’s not an option actually. 0.05

But Morris argues that there is something that draws couples to marriage, and it has nothing to do with assets.


Gay marriage as a means of also getting access to rituals, and well-wishing, and a host of other things that are very hard to quantify. 0.10

Fade up room tone from John and Glenn’s

Rituals are important to Glenn Santiago and John Hoge. They met in New York in 1985 and have been together for 27 years. Their apartment in the East Village is an explosion of Mexican carnival skulls, catholics relics and gay art. They started celebrating the Mexican Day of the Dead in the name of the dozens of friends they lost during the AIDS epidemic.


We didn’t think we’d live to be together 20 years. Everyone was dying. It was like get married, why? Let’s just have as much fun as we can now, because we’re not gonna make it that much longer. 0.13

The experience of surviving AIDS led John and Glenn to get legal documents to protect them in case one of them should pass away. Assets were not in their mind when they decided to tie the knot last November.


When did we do our wills? That was…


Probably fifteen years ago. 0.05

John and Glenn lived and cherished the free spirit of the seventies. Marriage was not something that they needed. Until last year, when Glenn had a fever that almost took him to the hospital.


I realized that if I have to take Glenn to a hospital anywhere in this country now, I don’t have to take that paper with me, I can say “that is my husband.” 0.10

John and Glenn are still getting used to that word… husband. They’ve survived together, lived together. And the day of the ceremony, as the minister pronounced them husbands


I got choked up thinking I never ever dreamed that I would be part of a state or a country that would legally say that I was just like everybody. 0.13

Fade out room tone.

Bonnie Morris thinks back to 2000 and remembers why many activists supported the shift in the movement.


Should we be putting all of our time into defending gays in the military, gays in the altar, gays in the church, and a lot of people said “Yeah, because we’ve been there all along.” 0.18)

The queers are not standing in the way of those who want to get married. But they continue to defend their radical legacy. They want marriage to remain an option among many. And to make its rights and benefits available to all.

Camilo Vargas, Columbia Radio News.

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Proposed Bills to Stop Use of Condoms As Evidence of Sex Work

Proposed Bills to Stop Use of Condoms As Evidence of Sex Work

Activists assemble on the steps of City Hall, May 3, 2013. They’re backing city and state bills that would create more oversight of the NYPD and ban the use of condoms as evidence in sex work prosecutions. (Camilo Vargas/Uptown Radio)

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A New York State Senate Bill would ban the NYPD to stop using condoms as evidence of sex work, and a City Council bill would create a new NYPD oversight office. Activists for the bills gathered at City Hall to support the measures. Camilo Vargas reports.


A bundle of legislation to reform the way the NYPD operates is currently making its way in the State Council. It’s called the Community Safety Act, and among its measures is the creation of an Inspector General for NYPD Oversight. The Measure has been endorsed by Mayoral Candidates Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio. But the measure is opposed by current Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. They claim that the bill would add more bureaucracy to NYPD oversight.

At noon today, human rights, public health and anti stop and frisk organizations gathered at City Hall to push for passage of the Community Safety Act. They support the act because they believe it will end what they call police profiling of LGBTQ communities of color. And that it will end the NYPD’s practice of using condoms as evidence of sex work.

[Ambi of protesters chanting “Safe needles saves lives”]

Activists chant on the steps of City Hall protesting against the NYPD. They’re a coalition of HIV Aids, LGBT and human rights groups that oppose the city’s stop and frisk measures. They claim the NYPD confiscates condoms and needles, and use them as evidence to arrest and charge people of prostitution and drug use. A transgender hispanic woman gives her testimony for the crowd.

Transgender witness:

Porque en mi caso personal cuando yo iba para un club me arrestaron por andar un condon en mi bolsa.

She says she was arrested for carrying a condom in her bag as she headed for a club. She fears being arrested for carrying condoms sh   e got at a city health center. She is one of the cases documented by a study by Human Rights Watch. The human rights group interviewed 125 sex workers, LGBT individuals and outreach organizations, and found that because of the NYPD’s use of condoms as evidence, people at high risk of infections are afraid of carrying them.

Margaret Worth:

That the condoms that they have on them at the time can be considered evidence by police and by prosecutors.

That’s Margaret Worth, a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch at the press conference. She says people in communities at high risk of HIV and STD infections sometimes believe that there’s a limit to the number of condoms they can carry, so that the NYPD doesn’t prosecute them for sexworkers.

Elizabeth Worth:

There’s absolutely no legal limit to the number of condoms a person can carry on them. Condoms are not contraband.

Elizabeth Lavenger, a spokesperson for the gay men’s health crisis says the measure of confiscating and using condoms as evidence of sex work contradicts the city’s policies of promoting condom use. The city’s health department actually hands out condoms for free. But what the city giveth, the city taketh away.

Elizabeth Lavenger:

People take those condoms and then almost immediately taken by the Police. So it’s money wasted that could be used to prevent infections.

The activists claim that these infection have led to a recent health crisis. Health officials recently documented meningitis and syphilis outbreaks among men who have sex with men in New York City. They also continue to record higher than average HIV infection rates in this group.

The organizations are also pushing for passage of the State Senate Bill sponsored by Senator Velmanette Montgomery, that would ban the use of condoms as evidence of sex work. The bill has received the endorsement of several public officials, including Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Haley. George Artz is the DA spokesperson:

George Artz:

The District Attorney has assigned his LGBT liaison to work with Senator Montgomery’s staff to support a bill prohibiting the use of condoms as evidence.

The bill is garnering support in the New York State Senate. Activists expect it will be ready for passage later this year.

Camilo Vargas, Columbia Radio News.

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Arms Treaty Sparks Fierce NRA Opposition

Arms Treaty Sparks Fierce NRA Opposition

New Jersey Firearms Academy Director Lateif Dickerson at his practice booth in the shooting range. He’s a member of the NRA and fiercely opposes the UN Arms Treaty. (Camilo Vargas/Uptown Radio)

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HOST INTRO: Gun control was shot down this week in the Senate, but the gun debate has gone global. The UN passed a treaty earlier this month that bans the sales of weapons to countries suspected of using them for war crimes, terrorism, and organized crime. The White House supports the Treaty, but as Camilo Vargas reports, it’s going to be a tougher sell for the powerful NRA lobby.

To get a sense of what gun advocates in this country say about the UN Treaty, I head to the New Jersey Firearms Academy in Jersey City. I’m taking the NRA’s basic pistol course.  

Ambi from the shooting range

Jerry Martin

Ok, before you walk through this door you gotta have your eyes in and your ears on.

Come on in!

Jerry Martin’s is the senior instructor at the academy. It’s my first time shooting a gun and I’m NERVOUS.


At the cage, Martin positions my trembling hands until they form a tight grip on my pistol.

Jerry Martin

Firm grip now, get as high up in there as you can. Get the gun in there, and when you’re ready squeeze

I pull the trigger for my first shot.


Not too bad, I get better with every shot.

Jerry Martin: good, a little bit lower, that’s good


Jerry Martin: good that’s even better, that’s close

By the end I was having a blast.


Jerry Martin: Bullseye!

I shoot ten rounds, switching between pistols and revolvers. And I get it. The thrill of shooting a gun.  

The shooting practice was the fun part of the day-long class. In the classroom, Academy Director Lateif Dickerson – doesn’t wait long before he tells the students that the United Nations wants to tread on their Second Amendment rights.

Lateif Dickerson

It’s bad enough that our own government is infringing on our rights, and now you’re gonna let an outside government infringe on our rights, that’s a bigger problem to me fundamentally.

Dickerson’s problem is the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, or ATT. One hundred fifty three countries voted to adopt it on April second, including the United States. The ATT is the first attempt in history to regulate the sale of weapons worldwide. It will make countries that sell weapons essentially run background checks on the countries buying them, to make sure they’re not using them for war crimes. Seller countries would have a responsibility to prevent weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists and criminals. Every country in the treaty would have to report its annual weapons sales to the UN.

Dickerson tells the class if the US Senate ratifies the ATT, these controls may limit gun sales here in the United States.

Lateif Dickerson

That’s why we’re against the Small Arms Treaty and those outside influences that would have an impact on our ability to own and possess these types of firearms.

Dickerson is one of the hundreds of NRA members who fiercely oppose the UN Treaty. Here’s NRA Executive Vicepresident Wayne LaPierre speaking at the UN last year.

Wayne LaPierre

Any Treaty that includes civilian firearms in its scope will be met with the NRAs greatest force of opposition.

The NRA tells its members the treaty will force more Americans to register their guns. But advocates for the treaty say the NRA has it all wrong.

Steven Stedjan

This treaty is only about the international trade of weapons. There is nothing about the domestic control of weapons within this treaty.  

Steven Stedjan is an arms specialist at the international non profit Oxfam. He says the NRA’s campaign against the treaty is politics as usual.

Steven Stedjan

So they created this boogey man of the UN trying to take away your guns.

Stedjan says the US already has strict controls for the sale of weapons overseas. What the treaty does is level the playing field for US manufacturers. Foreign arms suppliers would have to compete with rules as strict as those the US already enforces. In fact, the only three countries that voted against the ATT were Syria, North Korea and Iran, three countries that already face arms embargoes. The ATT might make it harder for them to get their weapons.

But UN officials like Disarmament Officer Daniel Prins say the most important reason to sign the treaty is human safety.

Daniel Prins

People in the future can feel safer because I foresee that arms will not end up in the hands of criminals, of pirates, of armed groups as easily. I’m  very sure this treaty will save a lot of lives and lot of limbs.

For the United States to join in the Treaty, it needs the backing of President OBAMA AND a two thirds vote in the Senate. The White House is for the ATT, but the Senate is 10 votes short of the total needed for adoption. And ATT advocates say they’re unlikely to close that gap any time soon.

Camilo Vargas, Columbia Radio News

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Newscast 2

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Secretary of State John Kerry warns North Korea against war threats.

US senators negotiating a new immigration law have reached a new agreement.

As the Senate gears up to debate expanding background checks for gun buyers.


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How Much Is That Drone On The Window?

HOST INTRO: Another national debate is swirling around a new generation of commercial drones which are quickly becoming available to the public. It’s the new frontier of technology and it’s raising questions about privacy. Camilo Vargas has the story on his radar.

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Residents Stand Off With Police In Flatbush Over Shooting

Residents Stand Off With Police In Flatbush Over Shooting

Protest in Flatbush, Brooklyn

Protesters march down Church Street after attending a vigil for 16-year-old Kimani Gray, March 14, 2013. (Katherine Jacobsen/Uptown Radio)

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HOST INTRO: Last night was the fourth day of protests for Kimani Gray, the 16-year-old killed by two NYPD officers last Saturday. There was no violence, but tensions ran high as enraged protesters walked down Brooklyn streets swarming with NYPD officers. Camilo Vargas reports from Flatbush.

Neighbors, activists and community leaders gathered for another vigil for Kimani Gray on the corner of Church Avenue and 55th Street. The sounds of sirens, police helicopters and three wheelers filled the streets, as police cars and anti-riot trucks raced up Church Street in Brooklyn.

Sound in the street of sirens, police caravan and a helicopter sound in the background.

The sidewalks were filled with police officers equipped with anti riot gear. At 8:30, near 100 protesters began their march from the vigil, chanting in between the lines of police forces.

Fade up of protesters chanting, “We want justice”

Some of the chants called for justice for Kimani Gray and an end to police brutality. Other chants revealed the racial undertone and the outrage among the protesters.

Sound of protesters with children chanting “NYPD KKK how many kids did you kill today”

That’s Fatima Shakur, one of the protesters who marched with two of her children at her side. Some of the marchers said they were weary. At the Wednesday protest – the most violent so far – police arrested 46, mostly young people as the marches turned violent.

The march stopped in front of a church halfway between the vigil and the Precinct. Councilman Jumanee Williams got half of the protesters to gather at a Church instead of marching on to the Precinct.

What we wanna do is talk to the community about a list of demands that the community can ask for so than when we go to the precinct we have something to demand.

About 50 people, mostly activists marched on. Inside the church, people voiced their outrage. One of the speakers said she came all the way from the Bronx.

We are afraid of a system that continues to think that they can come in and kill our youth at random. Eleven shots? Four in the back?

 No member of the Gray family was present. In a news conference on Thursday, Gray’s mother Carol Gray said her son was quote slaughtered and demanded to know why. Gray was killed by two police officers on Saturday. The police said the youth pointed a .38 caliber gun at them when they approached him. An autopsy revealed 7 bullets of a total of 11 fired by police had hit Gray.

The protest ended last night with a call from those present for justice and an end to police harassment of the community.




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Kenyans Prepare for Elections as Violence Continues

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In Kenya voters will head to the polls on Monday to elect a new president and vice president. Two of the candidates on the lead ticket face charges for crimes against humanity committed in the previous election, five years ago. International observers fear the violence might repeat itself. Camilo Vargas reports.

The outgoing Kenyan President came to office in 2008 after what observers called a
fraudulent election. During that campaign, his opponents took to the streets in protests.
They ignited retaliation from his supporters. Kenyan Bishop Joseph Wambua says it’s
sometimes hard to separate the country’s tribal groups from its political parties.

Some tribes ganged up together in a political party against another political party,
which was also tribally driven. (:11)

Wambua believes Kenyan politicians fueled the 2008 tribal disputes because they benefit
from ethnic divisions. Robert Omondi is the political director for a Kenyan diaspora
group here in the US. He says the violence before the last election killed over 1,000 and
displaced over half a million.

But as time went by militias started planning themselves into groups and
coordinating for something that started looking like genocide. (:11)

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former Minister William Ruto face
charges at the International Criminal Court for instigating that violence. They are the
front-runners in this year’s election. Ethnic violence over the past seven months of
the campaign has killed 100 in Eastern Kenya. Observers don’t hold the candidates

But there are fears that the international investigation might incite their supporters into
new violence. John Washburn is an international law expert at Columbia University. He
says the UN has the power to tell the Court’s judges to put a stop to the trial.


If they receive a request from the Security Council not to proceed with a case,
because of its effect on peace and security, they should honor that request.

Bishop Wambua says the men that might become his nation’s next leaders need to
respond for the charges against them in The Hague. He says it’s up to THEM to prove
they aren’t responsible for the violence, instead of blaming it on the nation’s tribal

Some of these tribes have lived together prehistorically without any problems. (:05)

Wambua is the one of the leaders of a group that represents the 20,000 Kenyans living
in New England. He says the group tried to set an example for their homeland in 2008.


We got the tribes together here in the New England area and we started talking to
one another and we sent the same message home. We are neighbors and when we
fight we all lose. And if we unite we all gain. (:13)

Results of the election should be available by March 11th. Whether Kenyatta and Ruto
travel in the presidential plane or not, they are expected at The Hague to mount their
defense in August.

Camilo Vargas, Columbia Radio News (0:14)

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Meeting My Revolutionary Father-In-Law

Meeting My Revolutionary Father-In-Law

Colombia Protest M19 Flag

A student waves a flag of the demobilized rebel group M-19 during a 2011 march. The M-19 movement was born as a political movement after an alleged electoral fraud in 1970, turned into an armed movement and disappeared in mid-1990. (Fernando Vergara/AP Photo)

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HOST: No family ritual is more complicated than meeting the in-laws, especially when one of them used to be a Colombian guerrilla. Camilo Vargas remembers the family secrets that surfaced when he met his husband’s.

VARGAS: My husband and I come from totally different worlds. I grew up in a quiet little suburb in Bogota. I went to Catholic school and I would frequently slam the doors at my conservative parents. In my teenage rebellion, I began to fantasize about revolutionary movements that had disappeared long before I was born. I read every book and saw every documentary I could find about the M-19. It was a Colombian guerrilla group formed in the seventies by student revolutionaries; they fought against the corrupt Colombian establishment. This obsession of mine only fueled the bitter ideological battles with my mom and dad. Deep into my college years, I still idealized everything that stood against my own upbringing.

So imagine my surprise when Luis told me on our first date that he was the son of a former M-19 guerrilla. But he knew almost nothing else about his father. He didn’t even know how his parents had met. His mother was a retired phone operator and union leader. She raised him on her own in a beautiful town in the coffee growing regions of Colombia. Luis was my revolutionary prince charming; straight out of the books I had read a few years back.

It took almost three years before I finally met Luis’s dad at a family dinner. Luis and I were really anxious that night. I would finally get to meet my M-19 father-in-law. But Luis was nervous for very different reasons. We sat down at the family table; his dad sat in front of me and rarely looked away from his plate. We ate in almost complete silence. By the end of our very informal chicken stew nothing but small talk dominated the table. Suddenly, I gave into my journalistic impulses, and politely asked him about leaving prison after the 1982 amnesty. He stared at me with his pale green eyes wide open. “I’ve always been fascinated by the M,” I explained, “And I’d like to know more.” He began telling the story about the time when he desperately needed a hideout after a strike on a military base in Luis’s hometown. He went to the local phone office and called home to find the military had raided his house and he had nowhere to go. When he went to pay for the call a known M-19 sympathizer stood at the other side of the counter: Luis’s mother. She handed the revolutionary his change along with a key to her apartment, and it became the safe haven where he stayed for five months. As Luis heard the story, he gently held my hand under the table and smiled as his eyes teared up. For the first time, his dad had told him the story of where he came from. In the end, to everyone’s astonishment, our conversation had gone on for almost two hours

That night, Luis was nervous because he had never had a meaningful conversation with his father about, pretty much anything. After the M19 demobilized in the 1990s Luis rarely saw him. When he was still a boy there were days he’d wait endlessly on his living-room couch, looking out the window for a hero that never showed up. The hero I had romanticized in my rebellious youth had left a scar in my husband’s almost perfect childhood. But it was a childhood he now understood a little more.

BACK ANNOUNCE: Camilo will see both his families again when he returns to Colombia for the summer.

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